(Story updated at 6 p.m. ET.)
CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced Friday that she will be leaving the CMS at the end of February. Her replacement, at least temporarily, will be Andy Slavitt, formerly a UnitedHealth Group executive who is now principal deputy administrator. Tavenner, 63, spent more than three years in the post.
Speculation will now turn to whom President Barack Obama might nominate to replace Tavenner and if any nominee can gain approval from the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I think it's going to be very hard to get someone confirmed into this role,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “I wouldn't be surprised to see someone act in the role for a prolonged period and then be appointed for the final year during a recess.”
It would be difficult for Obama to find a replacement with Tavenner's political relationships. Gottlieb called her “responsive” to congressional Republicans, for example.
Tom Scully, a former CMS administrator and current general partner at investment firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, said that he was “surprised she didn't leave earlier.”
Scully, who considers Tavenner a friend and a talented administrator, said that Tavenner had told him she was considering leaving earlier due to the job's intense pressures.
Tavenner's talents in policy and politics had allowed her to maintain good relationships on both sides of the aisle, Scully agreed. “Most Republicans like her. They don't like the administration, but they like her,” he said.
“She has a uniquely detailed understanding of healthcare policy” and the politics of her role, he said.
Indeed, most Congressional Republicans offered positive opinions of Tavenner. “Marilyn has done a great job in a very difficult position under near impossible circumstances,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that he had a “positive working relationship” with Tavenner, though he could not resist criticizing what he called the “misguided new healthcare law” that she helped implement.
One Congressional Republican offered a negative opinion. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) criticized Tavenner and HHS for what he called the inflated-enrollment scandal, likely referring to the news late last year that first-year healthcare insurance enrollment numbers included dental insurance enrollees.
“Tavenner had to go,” he said. The scandal was “a deplorable example of an agency trying to scam the American people.”